Lessons on Terminology and History

with Dan Bernardo, Sabom

sul-onwoodSul "術"

As we all know, diversity is a prominent aspect of humanity and our sociological constructs.  So it is of no surprise that there would be diversity within the martial arts community.  And this is, to be honest, a wonderful thing.  However... when is a martial art no longer a martial art?  When does a style or even a technique cease to be martial and become performance?

I know this may seem like a purely semantic issue, and at the risk of it being so I am going to be semantic.  I believe we often mistranslate this word... Sul "術".  In Dangsoodo you know this word within Ho Sin Sul, but you've probably also heard it in Chinese as Shu (Wushu), or any number of Koryu (old school) fighting arts from Japan as Jutsu (Kenjutsu, Iaijutsu, Aikijujutsu, etc...).

This Chinese character doesn't necessarily mean "art" as we would think of it in the West.  If you are an artist, you understand that there is much to be said about individualism, breaking free from styles, and different forms of expression that can be used within the medium you are using.  But that isn't necessarily what this Chinese character is expressing.

Instead, it's better translated as Method or Technique.  In this sense, it isn't the style of calligraphy you create, but the technique you use to put the ink on the paper.  In other words, it isn't how it looks, but how it's done.  In this sense, it isn't really the art but the science... the technique used to bring about a desired outcome.  Not the outcome itself (though the outcome determines the technique).

If we look at martial arts the same way, we see that techniques are designed for a specific purpose.  And that purpose isn't to look cool, or even meant for spectators.  It isn't a performance, unless you want to go back to gladiator times and enjoy watching people kill each other.  And no one wants that!

So when I see a true martial art, I see a speicific method of stopping conflict using applicable and sometimes violent physical body mechanics.  I see this in my Dangsoodo.  When I look at Fujian White Crane, I see another.  Goju Ryu, Uechi Ryu, Isshin Ryu, Shaolin Kungfu, Wudang Wushu, Taijiquan, Kenjutsu, HEMA, Kali/Escrima, etc... I see different methods/techniques to that same end.  And that end... is not performance.

If you're only twirling weapons around, it's not a martial art.

Let me put it this way.  On one hand, you have a handsaw... simple, sharp, designed to cut wood.  On the other hand, you have an electric circular saw... more complicated, sharp, powerful, also designed to cut wood.  So, you can see there are two different tools (such as two different martial arts) with two different methods/techniques to the same end (cut wood).  Now, if I tried to cut wood with a hammer, even a pretty sparkly hammer, I can even make the noises a saw makes while I'm hammering, it's still not going to work very well.  See, the hammer is the performance (or competition) martial art.  It has ceased to be martial.

It's imperative that we look at performance arts as performance arts, and martial arts as martial arts.  If you're only twirling weapons around, it's not a martial art.  Because you are using specific methods/techniques that are not designed for the martial end.  You are using specific methods/techniques specifically for competition and performance... not stopping conflict using applicable and sometimes violent physical body mechanics.

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